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Federal Prosecutors Investigating San Bruno Pipeline Explosion

A law enforcement official runs towards a massive fire in a residential neighborhood Sept. 9, 2010 in San Bruno
A law enforcement official runs towards a massive fire in a residential neighborhood Sept. 9, 2010 in San Bruno
Investigation could lead to criminal charges against PG&E

Updates: 9:02 a.m., 4/28/11

Federal prosecutors are investigating last year's deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno. Such an investigation could lead to criminal charges against Pacific Gas and Electric Company and some of its employees, although the U.S. Justice Department has not made any allegations of wrongdoing.

The Associated Press learned of the investigation through a public records request to state regulators.

In a brief email Wednesday, spokesman Josh Eaton confirmed the department is "looking into" the explosion, but declined to elaborate on the investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board is currently conducting a separate investigation, but the agency does not have prosecutorial powers. Its investigators have already found inferior welds in the natural gas pipeline and that PG&E did not report some of the welds to state regulators.

The agency also criticized PG&E officials for allowing the pipeline to burn for 89 minutes before shutting off the gas supply. The NTSB's investigation will be completed in September.

The California Public Utilities Commission is conducting its own investigation, which could lead to fines.

In February, federal prosecutors asked the CPUC to provide documents related to the pipeline's design, potential instances of over-pressurization, gas leaks or gas odors previously reported in the vicinity of the explosion, and inspection records. They also requested the CPUC provide records of any instances of PG&E violations of state or federal regulations regarding pipeline safety or hazardous materials as well as a long list of other documents.

Federal, state, and local prosecutors have been meeting regularly to determine whether any criminal behavior or negligence was involved, said Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), whose district includes San Bruno.

“I’m encouraged that they are looking at every avenue and into the history and the circumstances around [the explosion] to see if there is some responsibility or culpability,” Hill said Wednesday.

PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said the company has not received requests for documents from federal prosecutors, but she declined to say whether officials had been interviewed or otherwise contacted by the Department of Justice.

“PG&E continues to fully cooperate with the NTSB, the CPUC and other investigations into the cause of the tragic accident in San Bruno,” Chord said in a prepared statement.

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